Some comments on an internet group raised my interest in asking exactly what are the electronic systems on board motoGP bikes? Why do the electronics company AMD sponsor Ducati motoGP and Ferrari Formula1? All the F1 teams travel with a server and data storage, these systems collect data at the race track and transmit it back to the factory for detailed analysis and archiving. I thought the point with motoGP race bikes is that there are not a lot of onboard electronics, either real-time or for download, so motoGP is to much more do with the skill of the rider on the track and ability to communicate verbally with the technical team.

Technically, the systems are only for onboard control or storage and for transmission of data back in real-time during the race: there's no reverse link at all from the pits back to the bike. That's the main difference compared to the cars; and even Formula 1 rules prohibit a data link from the pits to the car, there’s just a voice link. So motoGP riders wear earplugs not intercom headphones and a rider is out of touch with the race director during the race, except for the pitboards.

The on-board pictures we see on the TV coverage probably use up most of the available bandwidth: the data shown as graphics overlaid on the video is limited to gear, revs plus sometimes throttle position and maybe indicated speed. It might be that the bike is stripped of many sensors for the race and so the bandwidth is available for the video. Equally, the television pictures we see of the brakes or the suspension may not be simply to provide dramatic television, the technical crew may be monitoring performance visually under race conditions eg travel of shocks. F1 telemetry systems have capacity for 100 to 150 sensors: a bike loaded with sensors to such an extent would be a such tangle of cables so video may be the more pragmatic solution.

Yamaha provided a press release in November last year which indicated there are on-bike sensors for wheel speed, engine speed, lean angle, and throttle position; plus there’s a high-performance GPS sensor so the data can be matched to the position on the track.

Presumably the engine management system is capable of providing at least as much data as that available to a retail bike mechanic, and having factory technicians will mean the system can be updated with new operating parameters to optimise performance.

Anti-wheel spin/skid traction control systems have been a lot more contentious, some riders and fans claiming that they have taken some of the skill out of riding and controlling the beast that is a race bike. But even Repsol Honda rider Andrea Dovizioso, one of the critics of on-bike electronics, ackowledged in a press relelase before Mugello 2011, that these systems have been one of the clearest spin-offs (my pun!) resulting in the safety systems deployed on retail motorbikes: ABS etc.

On bike electronics will consume power, take up space and add weight. Nothing is going to be on board during a race that doesn’t have to be. And the rider will be working at full stretch and unlikely to be looking much at a console, if at all. So the data is likely to be of more use downloaded after a ride rather than in real-time during a race. There do seem to be real-time systems on board which simulate/predict tyre wear but they're going to be of limited effectiveness when the conditions change during a race, eg rain or when the air temperature on race day is significantly different to practice and qualifying.

The rest of the electronics are engine management systems which the rider doesn't need to know about in the heat of the race, one result is a precise load of fuel, ie managing the starting weight precisely or managing the electronic gear shift systems.

What could be changed by a factory team with the resources to read and make changes as a result of this mountain of data? Significant changes are unlikely to be introduced without testing away from the motoGP spotlight. On a day-to-day basis they can certainly change tyre pressures, suspension and operating parameters for the engine/fuel/ignition management system, they may be able to tune the influence of anti-wheel spin systems. Changes of tyres are limited to a couple of choices, any possibility of changing of gearbox ratios is possible during test runs but is more likely to be decided in advance for each circuit in the light of analysis of previous years. Exhausts and braking systems can possibly change. But changes in the frame would be very much more long term, much more the case of analysis later of the data from accelerometers and strain gauges.

Valentino Rossi commented in 2007, several seasons ago, saying he dindicator telling him "slow down you're killing the tyres". Effective use of on-board systems might be the differentiator between the old-style riders and the newer ones on the scene; I suggest it will be the big Japanese factory teams who exploit on-board systems the best because it will give consistency.

What we've been seeing this year is that motoGP is still pretty open: the fast circuits and the "slow" circuits (like Sachsenring) producing very different races. Quite unlike the cars. Very happy with that.


I received the following comments from Graham H in Arizona: thanks Graham

Interesting article, but I have to disagree on a few points.

With respect to data logging- whether or not it's real time telemetry or not, the bandwidth required for 50+ sensors isn't that much, even with high frequency/high resolution signals. The video systems and their associated antennas are completely separate systems and they don't share any common hardware with the data acquisition systems. In fact, I'm sure the video systems have their own dedicated techs/crew to service/install/remove etc. when applied to a bike.

If the teams do use real time telemetry, I'm sure the resolution isn't as good as what is achieved by logging the data to on board memory (all solid state flash memory, no hard drives for obvious reasons). Flash memory is so small and light, I'm sure they have enough space on a 64GB chip for more than race distance, lap-wise.

The sensors are so small and light that it makes no sense that the teams would remove them for the race. Same goes for the wiring harnesses for the sensors. You can see the sensors and potentiometers in place when the bikes are gridded for the start. I'm sure a GP bike has something like 50+ channels with at least half of that in the motor.

Having data from the race and not just from practice is even more important than practice data, because the riders are riding much harder than when in practice. The suspension techs aren't going to watch the video and try and make decisions based on that when they have access to the digital data.

I was just thinking about this the other day when I was fixing my girlfriend's smartphone- she has a 64 GB chip in her phone that is no bigger than my fingernail. I'm sure the onboard data logging can handle hundreds of GB of data. And yes, the video bandwidth is no small thing, but I think the system is completely seperate and dedicated, vs. combined with any of the team equipment.

Always a pleasure discussing tech with you.